The Alchemical Furnace

Jan Daňhel describes the concept behind his documentary film Alchemical Furnace that portrays the figure and work of Jan Švankmajer.

From the film Alchemical Furnace

While finalizing Jan Švankmajer’s latest feature film Insects (with Jan Daňhel as editor and Adam Oľha as documentary cinematographer) producer Jaromír Kallista and surrealist Jan Švankmajer approached us with the request to use filmmaking as a medium to uncover and preserve the creative processes fermenting inside their film company Athanor.

Three diffrent principles are competing inside Athanor – the medieval alchemist’s furnace. The third of these principles is Eva Švankmajerová – an all-permeating and hermetically inseparable wife who died fifteen years ago. Without her critical spirit that had been relentlessly striving for permanent liberation, Švankmajer’s work would not have been complete and would have definitely been different. Eva and her energy topped off the alchemical triad of the “mixture” in ATHANOR. The three principles are mercury, sulphur and salt that keeps everything from exploding.
 

Jan Švankmajer, film still from Alchemical Furnace
 

Jan Švankmajer and Jaromír Kallista, film still from Alchemical Furnace
 

A producer and a surrealist – how do these two roles go together? Are they two communicating vessels? Can obsessions, aversions, magic thoughts, games, infantilism, imagination and sub-consciousness, so intrinsically fluid and evolving, be sold? Can you put a price on the creative process and cash it in? Where does it stem from, where is its source? How to describe the “cruel terror of love” – Kallista’s production method used to press his colleagues to yield their “sweetest juice”?

At the same time, we were a bit afraid of Jan Švankmajer’s legendary introversion, his strict refusal of any type of self-representation. However, to our great surprise he exposed the deepest layers and lobes of his private nooks.

Alchemy is not only about the production of gold but also about mental transformation. As the mixture in the alchemist’s furnace – athanor – gets purified, the alchemist is transformed. When the operator is authentically present, only then the transformation can be conveyed to the audience.
 

Jan Švankmajer at work 

On the watch

Since we didn’t want to copy Švankmajer’s signature, we opted for an obsessive model of shooting rather than an aesthetic one. Our approach was organic, associative and alchemical. We didn’t allow ourselves to venture into conceptual thinking. We were simply “on the watch”, playing the waiting game, knowing that we got lured into a magical world to play the adventurous game of the “obsessive parasitic film”.

The film explores Švankmajer’s concepts and creations, hence being not only a documentary overview of his work but primarily a living, imaginative and playfully situational film. And it mainly shows that world cinema can also be “impromptu“ and that even death can perhaps be defeated through authentic experience of the magical world.

Translated by Viktor Heumann





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starší články

2.20DOK.REVUE
14. 12. 2020


from current issue:

New releaseShooting About KunderaDocumentarian Miloslav Šmídmajer describes the process of making a documentary about Milan Kundera with the working title “Milan Kundera: From the Joke to Insignificance.” Miloslav ŠmídmajerThemeNest in the bedroomPeter Hames, well-known British film historian and author of the book The Czechoslovak New Wave sent his remembrance to Karel Vachek to our magazine.Peter HamesThemeNever stop laughingPaolo Benzi, the Italian film producer and founder of the independent film production company Okta Film, describes for dok.revue how he met famous Czech documentary filmmaker Karel Vachek, who passed away last year. Paolo Benzi is also the main tutor of the Emerging producers in Ji.hlava IDFF.Paolo BenziThemeBehold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightenedIn this English issue of dok.revue we have collected some remembrances to Karel Vachek, the respected Czech documentarist who died in December 2020 at the age of 80. One of the contributors is Olaf Möller, a well-known film theorist and critic collaborating with many renowned film magazines (Film Comment or Sight & Sound), film museums and festivals (e.g. Il Cinema Ritrovato or International Film Festival Rotterdam).Olaf MöllerThemeEvery human being should get to wear comfy shoesThe Czech documentarist Karel Vachek was a chairperson of the jury at Yamagata international documentary film festival (YIDFF) in 2009. The board member of YIDFF and the former director of this festival, Asako Fujioka, has a remembrance of him smoking his pipe and going to the mountains with Japanese poet and filmmaker Yoshimasu Gozo to recite poetry to the skies.Asako FujiokaThemeLike the dog on the beach...American film historian Alice Lovejoy writes her remembrance of Karel Vachek, the remarkable Czech documentarist to whom we dedicate this English issue of dok.revue.Alice LovejoySportPandemic as an opportunityJi.hlava's Emerging Producers discuss the opportunity that can emerge from crisisSteve RickinsonInterviewThe times of lifelong careers are overAn interview with documentarian Jindřich Andrš, whose film A New Shift won the Czech competition section Czech Joy at Ji.hlava IDFF2020.Vojtěch KočárníkInterviewGoing to the Polish Turf with Our Own TeamInterview with documentary filmmakers Filip Remunda and Vít Klusák about their latest joint film project Once Upon a Time in Poland that shows how religion and faith are misused in contemporary Poland for mass manipulation and political purposes. The film‘s Czech premiere was held as part of the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival 2020.Kamila BoháčkováIntroductionDok.revue 1.21This issue is dedicated to the doyen of Czech documentary filmmaking Karel VachekKamila Boháčková